Guerrilla Gardening

Guerrilla gardening is an expression of the power of the flower. The concept — to take a bare or neglected public or quasi-public space and introduce an unexpected element of gardening there — is public-spirited, a little bit radical, and, more than anything, a gentle reminder to those who notice that flowers and gardens make the world a better place.

European guerrilla gardeners have planted pansies in the cracks of sidewalks, sown the seeds for small meadows in open spaces, and launched an international tulip-bulb planting day. In the United States, the movement not well known and certainly not centrally organized, but you’ll find pockets of guerrilla gardening, predominantly in cities. The gardeners themselves usually have an invisible hand, but a patch of sunflowers by the side of the road or a jaunty colony of bright pink or yellow cosmos in a corner of an empty lot may indicate the presence of a guerrilla gardener.

Don’t expect to find a lot of fancy design in the world of guerrilla gardening. There is seldom enough space in which to articulate a design. Nor can guerrilla gardens often be tended: the plants in a guerrilla garden have to be independent, self-sustaining survivors that thrive without coddling and bloom without reinforcements of fertilizer.

Certain flowers lend themselves very easily to the kind of quick and dirty, surreptitious sowing favored by gardeners whose plots are not their own. Annual flowers — zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, poppy, and larkspur — will come up and bloom in a rugged spot without attention. Perennial coneflowers, bee balm, and black-eyed Susans tolerate drought and neglect, bloom for weeks, and provide seeds for birds and nectar for butterflies. Backyard gardeners love all these flowers, and gardeners who lack a garden (but envision one in a vacant lot or a neglected urban spot) can rely on them.

It’s important not to take the terminology too seriously: these guerrillas may be idealistic, but they aren’t against anything. Think of guerrilla gardening as a private act of public horticulture. Someone is having a little fun with flowers.

©2023 W.Atlee Burpee & Co